Last night I watched the second of the 2-part ABC documentary, Whitlam: The Power & the Passion, on the prime ministerial career of Labor's Gough Whitlam (1972-1975).
What an inspiration the man was! Back then, the Australian Labor Party was truly the embodiment of Chifley's 'light on the hill'.
The following assessment of Whitlam, by one of his colleagues, sums up the man and the era beautifully:
"Yesterday's Canberra Times [1/1/76] carries an interesting letter which begins by saying that Gough Whitlam's early sponsors 'saw him merely as a shallow lawyer who would charm sufficient middle-class voters to put the Labor Party in office'. Instead, the letter continues, they unleashed a genuine radical who released imprisoned conscientious objectors, spent more money on education, introduced free legal aid, showed a concern for the aboriginal people and for human rights.
"Gough was indeed a radical; he probably had a deeper commitment to Socialism than Evatt, Forde, Scullin, Hughes, Charlton, Tudor, Fisher or Watson. The only Federal Leaders who had Whitlam's commitment to social change were Calwell, Chifley and Curtin. Socialism, Gough once explained, was about the quality of life. Wages and conditions, he said, were no longer the chief determinants of real living standards. What really mattered, he argued, was 'the social capital a country can offer its people in the form of health, housing and education'.
"Soon after his election as Leader he made a declaration of faith in Socialism which went beyond anything even Curtin, Chifley or Calwell would have said after they became Leaders. He declared: 'There never was an age when Socialism was so nearly inevitable, there never was a country where it was so necessary... Public ownership and public control of the economy are more than ever central to the Labor programme for Government'." (The Cameron Diaries, Clyde Cameron, 1990, pp 3-4)
But how is the party of the great Gough Whitlam faring these days? Is Chifley's 'light on the hill' still burning?
For answer, one need look no further than the opening paragraph of a short report in the May 24 issue of The Australian Jewish News. This one-sentence 'snapshot' speaks volumes about the current state of the party, managing to capture - as only a 'picture' can - both the essence and extent of its political vision, and, tellingly, the size of its membership base:
"Members of the Young Labor Women's Network showed their love of chocolate and their support for Israel and the Jewish community earlier this month by holding a meeting at Max Brenner in Parramatta." (Chocolate beats BDS for Labor's young women)